EDITORIAL: A Two Way Street


By Tam News Staff

In the June issue of the Tam News, Sarah Asch and James Finn explored the friction surrounding teachers’ varying opinions on collaboration and how and when to use project-based learning. With Tam in the market to hire new staff members next year, we found ourselves questioning how this conversation about teaching could be improved. Our answer was by including student voice. We published an editorial in our December issue about incorporating student voice into district politics, but we still see a deficit of student input where it may be most valuable – education in the classroom. It seems that student voices have been lost when it comes to giving teachers feedback about teaching style, projects, and other class-specific activities that affect our learning. We as students don’t receive enough opportunities to provide honest feedback to their teachers about classroom environments, assignments, or other difficulties that they might be facing.
Disconnect occurs in two places when it comes to the dialogue among students and teachers in this realm: first, students often don’t approach their teachers; second, many teachers don’t provide students with opportunities to give feedback, and when they do receive criticism, often fail to take it constructively.
If students want to see a realistic change in curriculum and instruction, they need to help galvanize that change. Students often lack the motivation and confidence to begin an open dialogue with their teachers, especially if the conversation they plan to have consists of negative comments about that teacher’s class. This problem may stem from the idea that teachers take criticism personally, and that this will affect the student’s long-term relationship with the teacher and perhaps even the student’s grade in the class in question.
We also encourage teachers to actively seek out feedback about the way they are running their classes. Some teachers already do this by giving students opportunities to comment at the end of projects or units in the form of written evaluations, but we have noticed that the overwhelming majority of these surveys (which are most often anonymous) purposefully lead students to highlight positive aspects of the assignment rather than talking about what could have been improved. Exceedingly positive leading questions such as “what was your favorite part of this project?” or “what did you learn the most from?” are often asked, instead of more objective questions that would give students the opportunity to provide constructive criticism in order to make actual improvements. Surveys that do lack these pointedly positive questions often result in students dolling out excessively harsh criticism due to the surveys’ anonymous nature – students often see anonymous surveys as an invitation to bash teachers they don’t like. In order for surveys to effectively improve students’ learning experiences teachers must begin writing more comprehensive, objective surveys, and students must fill out surveys with the intention of providing legitimately useful, nuanced feedback for teachers.
We understand that teaching is difficult, especially when you have to take into account classes full of kids with different needs, and we don’t mean to suggest that student feedback should replace or eclipse teacher discretion. We would simply like to advocate for the incorporation of more student feedback into our school’s learning process, which requires a foundation of mutual trust and respect among teachers and students. This means that teachers have to trust that their students are capable of giving thoughtful, mature feedback, and students must also behave in a way that is worthy of that trust by taking the opportunity to give feedback seriously and not using it as a chance to trash a teacher, class, or project.
The system we have now leaves students reluctant to approach teachers with questions or concerns about teaching methods because they feel that their input is unasked for and they worry that teachers might become defensive or view them as disrespectful. We know that it is difficult to open oneself up to feedback from groups of teenagers, but if it is impressed upon students to take the feedback process seriously, the majority of kids would be able to provide responses that are worth teachers’ time.